How To Transition From Nursing to a Startup
I was a few years into my clinical career when I started feeling a bit complacent and bored. We all know the clinical environment is no place for complacency so I took this feeling seriously and immediately considered what that might mean for my career. I found myself continuously curious about the problems I faced in my day-to-day as a nurse and ultimately solving them, but didn’t have the avenues within the hospital to impact them in a meaningful way. I also increasingly recognized how niche and specialized my skills and experience were perceived as a nurse but knew were truly transferable. After living and working in San Francisco, surrounded by world-class innovation and an insatiable hunger to solve problems, I explored what it might look like to work in tech, as a nurse.
Ever since, I talk to nurses every day eager to learn more about what this could look like for them.
It’s common for nurses to be intrigued about non-traditional career opportunities where we can leverage our nursing education and clinical experience to have an impact. COVID shifted the working dynamics and environments for nurses in ways that made a clinical nursing career feel unsustainable at times. As a result, an increasing number of nurses are looking to switch from nursing to business or tech. This historically non-traditional career path and transition may typically be accompanied by concern, curiosity, and skepticism about what working in such a different environment might entail and what to expect from that transition.
Here at Trusted alone, we’ve had over 100 nurses make the transition from clinical nursing to working here in business and tech from various clinical backgrounds and care settings and we’re here to give you the inside scoop!
Let’s start with the why - the reason for making the transition from nursing to tech and why these considerations are critical for success at a startup or in tech.
To ensure success in making what can be a fairly big career transition, it’s important to understand primary motivators for pursuing a role at a startup as a nurse. Some sound reasons to consider making the transition are feelings of stagnation and wanting a new challenge, a desire to push the bounds of your comfort zone, and wanting to leverage your existing skills and experience in a way that will take your career in a new direction.
While valid, we caution against sole motivators being related to burnout, the desire to no longer work nights/weekends/holidays, or working remotely. Making a transition to working for a startup or other similar opportunities may indeed provide reprieve from these scenarios, but shouldn’t be perceived as a solution for them. Instead, when considering such a career transition, it’s important that you’re actively seeking a new challenge - one that will initially feel exciting yet uncomfortable and stimulating yet potentially a bit overwhelming. The transition period will likely require the ability to lean into the discomfort that comes with learning, broadening your horizons, and ultimately expanding your comfort zone.
What to Expect
Depending on how far back it is for you or whether you locked those memories away in a (supply) closet, you might remember how it felt to be a new grad nurse: overwhelmed by all there was to learn, skeptical that you’d be able to practice independently in a seemingly short period of time, or anxious about what might happen on shift or what new and unfamiliar task you’d be required to do. For many of us, being a new grad nurse challenged us in ways that were scary, uncomfortable, and that were enough to make us question our career choice a time or two. But before we knew it, we were those experienced nurses that we were once precepted by and in awe of.
Transitioning to a new role in a new environment, working on a different schedule and with a new kind of interdisciplinary team (think business, operations, design, technical, etc!) can resurface a lot of those feelings. But that’s not a bad thing, especially depending on your ‘why’!
The specifics of the experience will depend on the company, your role, team, working environment (remote v. in-person) and responsibilities, but below are some of what you can expect in a startup environment.
- Technology - lots of it. It may be somewhat true that nurses are tech-savvy, but it’s a different ballgame at a startup. Expect to become proficient in several applications and platforms, for communication, task management, collaboration, scheduling, and more that all function in much more modern ways than the technology we typically encounter in a clinical environment.
- A fast pace. Gone will be the days of having an idea and it taking months and months to see it in action. In a startup environment, iteration is quick - meaning once something is identified as broken or inefficient, there’s often an appetite to quickly act on the next iteration of it or an alternative solution. Expect to see your ideas implemented, or having to implement them. With this comes expectations of quick execution, follow-up, and getting a lot done in a short period of time.
- Lots of collaboration. Similar to patients having entire care teams, it takes a lot of motivated and curious individuals to bring to life and execute on a lofty vision and big goals. While there will be experts in certain things, everyone must rely on each other and their knowledge to get things done.
- A lack of structure. Sure, you may have a title, manager and there will be policies in place but unlike the hospital environment, there’s unlikely to be entire manuals and playbooks full of policies and procedures. Additionally, patients' needs and medication times won’t dictate your day or what you’re spending your time on - that will be mostly up to you and require lots of discipline and creating structure for yourself to achieve your goals and responsibilities.
Skills & Competencies
As clinical nurses, we’ve either harnessed or adopted key competencies that helped us not only survive but thrive in various experiences from new grad to experienced nurse. Those same competencies will be key to tap into again when transitioning to a new role in a new environment, working on a different schedule and with a new kind of interdisciplinary team (think business, operations, design, technical, etc!).
Adaptability & resilience
You’ll be working in a new way - likely remotely or some hybrid, which means that the nature of how you work will dramatically change. It’s unlikely you’ll be working an hourly wage, literally clocking in and out, or have each hour dictated by patient tasks and needs. One of the biggest changes for many of us here was going from working 3x12 hour shifts to working M-F. This type of environment and schedule comes with a different sense of autonomy and boundaries, all of which can be jarring and requires an adjustment period. Success will require leaning into the discomfort and newness as you adapt and the ability to stay positive and communicate as needed throughout the adaptation period.
Ability to quickly develop trust and rapport
You’ll be working with an entirely new interdisciplinary team that will look different than in a traditional healthcare environment. Rather than physicians, techs, therapists, social workers, pharmacists or case managers, you may find yourself working alongside engineering, sales, operations, or marketing. But like the clinical environment, the ability to quickly develop trust and rapport with cross-functional teammates will be key to success in an environment that depends on lots of collaboration.
Ability to learn quickly
You don’t realize how riddled our worlds are with medical lingo and acronyms until you start to try to explain a diagnosis or procedure to a non-clinician. Entering the world of business, and especially tech, is similar - but expect to be on the other side of the fence. In addition to the abbreviations and acronyms (Q3, QBR, OKRs, KPIs), there’s a lot of business language and acumen that simply doesn’t typically exist in our clinical world. The quicker you can assimilate, the quicker you’ll be able to add value and the less ‘lost’ you’ll feel (which initially is normal!).
Similar to a clinical environment, there can be a lot of people and projects vying for your attention, whether it’s meetings to prepare for, opportunities and communications to follow up on, Slacks to respond to, or documents to review. While it may not be call-lights or life and death scenarios, the ability to stay organized, disciplined with your time, and prioritize will be key to productivity and efficiency and not getting bogged down from reactivity.
When there’s a problem, inefficiency, or opportunity, it’ll be your job to help move it forward, whether you’re an owner of a project or simply a contributor to it. Most startup employees are shareholders, or owners, of the company via equity that is granted as part of a compensation package and the ownership mindset accompanies that. This is similar to the perspective of a hospital I worked in “if there’s something on the floor, you pick it up; if there’s a pump beeping, you address it; if something is broken, you report it.” Success will depend not on being handed opportunities but seeing them and taking action.
Interested in making the transition but unsure where to start? You can view open roles at Trusted or consider looking into resources offered by sources such as LinkedIn. Follow other nurses who have made the switch or start with a simple Google search on alternate careers. Finally, we created a three part series on Nursing Jobs Beyond the Bedside that might be helpful.
Looking for more resources for your career? Join the Trusted Community and find peer-to-peer connections and support!